Conservatives Grapple With Gay Wedding Rite

Rabbis Create Traditional Service, But Some Couples Balk

Tying the Knot: Friends and relatives of Gregg Drinkwater and David Shneer gather around their chuppah, each offering one of the seven Jewish wedding blessings. Cantor Sam Radwine officiated at the wedding in 1996.
courtesy of Gregg Drinkwater
Tying the Knot: Friends and relatives of Gregg Drinkwater and David Shneer gather around their chuppah, each offering one of the seven Jewish wedding blessings. Cantor Sam Radwine officiated at the wedding in 1996.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published November 28, 2011, issue of December 02, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Having recognized gay rights with their 2006 acceptance of gay unions, Conservative rabbis are now wrestling with the issue of gay rites.

The recent efforts of three leading rabbis to construct a kosher wedding ceremony for same-sex couples hews closely to the traditional Jewish heterosexual ceremony, in an effort, they say, to ensure that same-sex couples suffer no inequality in the sacred standards governing their vows. But these efforts, ironically, are now drawing criticism from some activists for replicating aspects of the Jewish wedding rite that they consider sexist.

“In a way it’s a shame, there is an opportunity for a less problematic, more contemporary liturgy,” said Jay Michaelson, founding director of Nehirim, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jewish group. (Michaelson is also a Forward contributing editor.)

Rabbi Jill Hammer, right, with her wife, Shoshana Jedwab, at their wedding.
courtesy of jill hammer
Rabbi Jill Hammer, right, with her wife, Shoshana Jedwab, at their wedding.

What’s more important than parity between same-sex and heterosexual ceremonies, critics say, is equality between partners. While traditional Jewish marital rites — or kiddushin — describe the man as the owner of his wife, some gay and lesbian Jews say they want to avoid this hierarchical language in favor of an egalitarian template.

The trio of rabbis leading the effort to devise a sacred structure for same-sex wedding vows that will pass muster as kiddushin are Elliot Dorff, a professor of Jewish theology at American Jewish University; Daniel Nevins, Dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary; and Avram Reisner, head of the Chevrei Tzedek Congregation in Baltimore. The same three rabbis also authored an influential ruling in 2006 that welcomed gays into the Movement. At a meeting on November 16, the rabbis presented their proposal for same-sex marriage and divorce rites to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, Conservative Judaism’s official rabbinical association.

Because the document is still in draft form — it will likely be voted on in June 2012 — the rabbis declined to share it with the Forward. But the rabbis, describing the marriage template in broad terms, said that it was modeled on the traditional ceremony, taking place under a canopy, with an exchange of rings and a recitation of the traditional seven blessings, among other rites. The main discrepancy is that the gendered language has been changed.

According to Reisner, the rabbis felt that if they strayed too far from traditional marriage in their proposal to the committee, they would be seen as offering gay and lesbian Jews a ceremony that was both separate and unequal. “The community would not feel warmly if they felt they were being offered some radically different thing,” he said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.